The Grindhouse: Tarrantino, Rodriguez and me

It was an experience alright. Not one many seemed to get. What do I mean by that? That even among the pulp schlock crowd there are idiots who don’t even seem to know what they are watching. Two things stood out among the audience during this film. The first, moments after Rodriguez’s Planet Terror came to a conclusion a good 20 people stood up and left the theater as if the movie was over. I watched in absolute astonishment as this occurred. Did they not realize that Kurt Russell hadn’t appeared in the film yet? That there was no deadly car chase sequences? Very odd. And secondly, only about a quarter of the audience was laughing and truly appreciating the amazing experience that these two talented filmmakers created for our pleasure. They were watching but they certainly weren’t seeing. Every detail of these two films was so minutely crafted to capture the essence of the original grindhouse movies that really its difficult to calm them bad movies. From seeing the crew and camera man in the mirrors in the opening moments of Planet Terror to the constantly shifting backgrounds every time the camera cuts in the first car ride in Death Proof, you know, if nothing else, that Rodriguez and Tarrantino have seen far too many of these movies themselves.

But even where homage is paid, the films stand alone as very entertaining and enjoyable modern films. The car crash sequences in Death Proof are really quite thrilling. The violence is unquestionably and almost realistically violent. If you know someone who has been in a fatal automobile accident, you may want to close your eyes during this sophisticated slasher movies first big death scene. But then if you do, the final 20 minutes of the film won’t be nearly as satisfying. The only problem here is that, well, you’ve seen Tarrantino do this all before. Certainly not with a murdering stuntman behind the wheel, but the whole 70’s exploitation in modern setting, you have…over and over again. So when the camera wraps around the girls in a diner quipping in pulp culture references…you’ve seen it. When you witness the over the top violence…you’ve seen it. This is Tarrantio’s specialty. This is why people love him, and will continue to do so. Because while he takes himself seriously as a filmmaker (my friends would argue too seriously), he takes himself too seriously when concerning film genres that don’t matter as much to anyone else. (Except maybe Eli Roth – who is his own sort of twistedness.) Even when there are a few moments of this film that drag a bit (the second group of girls especially), it’s so smoothly done, and has such an incredible end, you’ll find yourself a fan…I was even hooting and hollering in the end, which is something I don’t normally do. And thank goodness Kurt Russell exists. I don’t know what I would do without the man.

As for Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. It’s just impressive to see a man take such a ridiculous idea and make something beautiful out of it. Oh, and grotesque. But instead of making my own statements about the film, I’m going to pick on someone else’s statements. That being this final statement made by Richard Roeper in his current review “Grindhouse” over at the Chicago Sun Times…

“Rodriguez is a ridiculously talented writer, director, editor, composer, cinematographer, sound designer, etc., etc., and he absolutely nails the tone of the classic zombie gore-fest. Even through all the winks and blood and decapitations, he gives us twisted little subplots and a handful of three-dimensional characters. The cast is strong, though it’s a bit tough to buy the slight (albeit talented) Freddy Rodriguez as the baddest man on the planet. The sole reason I’m giving “Planet Terror” only three stars is I’ve never been a zombie-movie guy; I’ve always found this particular strain of undead, with their limited brainpower and their halting gaits and their dopey groaning, to be among the least interesting horror-movie monsters. But for fans of the genre, “Planet Terror” is just about perfect.”

Roeper is on for the first 3/4 of his review. Rodriguez is gifted. The man can take a thousand dollars and create an action movie 50 times better than almost any director with 100million can make. He really is a genius. He hits all the right beats and notes in his film.There was a guy sitting just in front and to the right of me, who sat through both films silently, with his just as silent friend next to him. And every time my two friends and I laughed he would glance back and glare…one of the many people in the audience who didn’t completely enjoy what he was watching…or maybe he was unable to. A lot of audience members have been trained to react to bad movies with the calmest respect. Nobody laughed during The Day After Tomorrow, but my friends and I. So when the average movie goer walks into a film like this, they’re going to take it seriously. They are undiscerning. It’s unfortunate. Back to Roeper’s final unfortunate statement…

He is unwilling to give Planet Terror 4 stars, because it’s a zombie movie. Huhwhat? He calls Rodriguez ridiculously talented! Praises every aspect of the film! Then says in so many words…but it’s only a zombie movie. This is the type of film snobbery that turns audiences off of reviewers. This is the type of film snobbery that turns me off of reviewers! The best kind of zombie films aren’t even about the zombies, but about the people who are being hunted down by them. They’re about survival and humanity pushed to the brink. The fear of loss and of being made into one of them. It’s not about the “monsters” that are chasing you, but the monsters in all of us, and the few who fight to better themselves. Rodriguez taps into that just as Romero did in “Dawn of the Dead” (the other classic zombie film which I’m sure Roeper would only give 3 stars, because, well zombies just aren’t interesting.) Truly he has missed the point. There are actors in this film I’ve always loved who never seemed to have gotten the attention they deserved. Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey (both wonderfully talented actors, not afraid to look silly, and in doing so, look that much better in their final scene together), actually, everyone is great in this little film. And it’s a complete joy to watch. Rodriguez knows when to make the film shake around to create tension and to give it that old school vibe at the same time. Can’t say enough good things about it. And Bruce Willis is another one of those actors I don’t know what I would do without. He just can’t not look cool. He’s cool.

The one note of complaint, Tarrantino should stop appearing on screen. It worked somehow once in T and R’s other collaboration From Dusk til Dawn, but it hasn’t since. He’s not an actor, but even more, there’s nothing in his eyes. They are completely dead. There’s nothing to look at when he’s on camera, until he’s off.

There are other moments of enjoyment and those include the trailers from other current schlock director. My favorite, and what is the most twisted of the bunch, was Eli Roth’s trailer. Because it’s so short, it would be bad to comment too much on it. But again the detail taken to preserve the feeling of those 70’s B movies. I remember watching a film about a town afraid to go to bed after sunset, or afraid of sunset, or something. It was shot hand held mostly. Felt like a documentary. Roth takes that feeling and has a lot of fun with it. He even pays homage to another horror film I’ve seen with a trampoline, a bouncing naked cheerleader, and a sharp object, but takes it about 50 times beyond the twistedness of the original. And there’s one final shot that probably went too far, but when the spirit hits you, I guess you go to town on whatever is nearby.

And if you want to talk about great trailers…Eli Roth’s Hostel II, is beyond creepy, and shows you just enough in a way that completely intrigues you and turns you off at the same time. Creepy…

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2 Responses to “The Grindhouse: Tarrantino, Rodriguez and me”

  1. power_switch Says:

    as a rule, i cant stand horror movies due to their cheesiness and resorting to lame methods to make the audience jump like throwing a cat in an open window while the bad guy music plays….. but a rare few are real gems.

    i both respect and curse Quentin for making horror movies that i want to see.

  2. The Edge Agency Says:

    I feel a huge number of people missed the entire point of these two exceptional movies. It didn’t help that they split these two when released to video. The were great as a entire concept but the magic seemed broken when separated. I think that is why it missed again with the home vid crowd

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